Report from the Field – Ben Slavic

I was very pleased to welcome a beginning French student who studies with PLC member Don Read to New Delhi from San Francisco yesterday. With dual citizenship, Sahaana and her family were here for Divali.
I chose an Anne Matava script called “Seated in the Corner’ from her new book because it came highly rated by Anne. (We should have a category for “Highly Rated Scripts”, scripts that we know will work for situations like this one. I never work without a script when being observed so that I can be guaranteed that the train will stay on the tracks.)
As advertised, the story was fun, held the interest of the class, and, if not a home run, was definitely a triple. Sahaana jumped right in acting as the main character. She understood everything and seemed to be quite enjoying herself seated over in the corner, the focus of the story, at one point going to the principal’s office while driving a car with a four foot wide steering wheel that was about six feet off the ground.
In a time when students who change teachers in mid year are met with old and hackneyed refrains like “That teacher didn’t teach you anything!”, Don, a recent Teacher of the Year in his CA district , and I have reason for a big hug because Sahanna fit into a class half way around the world seamlessly.
[An aside: all of Anne’s new stories follow the traditional three location structure of TPRS, and as the story went through the three locations I couldn’t help but think how the three locations are better than random communication because the same structures are repeated so much – so many times! – in stories. It was an eye opener.]
I know why I always use a script when being observed – they guarantee my safety by guaranteeing interested in case the story doesn’t grow wings of its own. The kids never notice how the script is guiding things along – they think that they are making everything up. Usually the final story when working from a script is a combination of Anne’s script and things the kids make up, which works well.
All in all, we had a great time, and I got an awesome reading out of it, a full page of details and vocabulary that I will send through its paces using Reading Option A for at least two block classes after the Thanksgiving break. Thanks to my great story writer in that class, I can now work my CI instruction narrow and deep in this upcoming most important part of TPRS – the reading piece, staying very much inbounds with all the ROA activities.
Don, if you read this, THANK YOU for sending Sahaana over. Her mom was smiling from ear to ear during the story and even her little brother Zubin got into it. Mom asked Sahaana after class if she understood everything and Sahaana said yes and mom said that she only got about four words, although she totally enjoyed the mood in the room. We must be doing something right!



16 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Ben Slavic”

  1. Wow! Thank you for the update Ben! And thank you for including Sahaana in your class! Big compliments to you for bringing a visiting student so seamlessly into your class family! Also, I now want a copy of the new Matava scripts – are they available through you?

    1. Same here! Are these Anne’s “Houdini” scripts, the ones that are available on your site? If so, I assume they can be used without necessarily using the novel.

      1. No Brigitte and Don the new Vol. 3 collection is only about half way done. I keep bugging Anne about it but she is from Maine so go figure. She is also being more selective about which stories get into the new book. Look for it in the summer. Maybe. Hopefully.

  2. This is big beyond the ebullience of having a student fit into a class halfway around the world.
    Think about it for a moment. Do Ben and Don follow the same curriculum? Are they tied to identical Scope and Sequence frameworks? Are they using the same textbook? Is there a pacing guide to keep them “on track”?
    NO – overwhelmingly NO, and yet …
    and yet …
    a student can move seamlessly from one class to the other and understand everything.
    My district is nearly paranoid about what happens when a student transfers from one school to another, expressing great concern that students not “miss out” on some standard while duplicating another. This anecdote provides a great example that theirs is a false concern in world language classes done right. I can’t and won’t speak for other disciplines, but in World Languages, if we simply follow Krashen’s precepts and focus on the words most necessary for communication while ensuring that our students comprehend, then everything else takes care of itself.

    1. There is talk in my neck of the woods about kids having the same experience. Students move across the hall and go from an English experience to a T2 experience and vice versa. (“Experience” here is a code word for “same limits to the scope” and “same order for the sequence.”)
      But Sahanna goes from one country to another across a big ocean and gets the same language experience. And now Don wants a copy of the script that he prepared his student to do so well in.
      Thanks for the insight on S/S, Robert. Thanks for the report, Ben.

  3. Yes. I am speechless, because I just “know” this and I don’t know how to express the “knowledge”. And it is getting me into trouble because I am thus far incapable of expressing “it” in a SLO (student learning objective) or a “unit plan template,” “highly structured lesson plan on plan” or any of these (new and foreign to me) documents. I am making myself crazy over this stuff trying to explain it when I just can’t. How can I learn to state this stuff or fit it into the box? Eek. The million dollar question.

    1. I sympathize. I find the same things very difficult to put into tiny pieces. I am fortunate not to have many types of documentation required.
      What about this: can the PLC help you? Describe what you did during a recent class. We’ll list how that can be described in the forms you’re expected to complete, and then you’ll have a template for the next time you have to complete those forms.
      It’s not worth that stress (and I’ve stressed too much, too, about a curriculum guide I’m supposed to have for all levels, and goals, standards, re-evaluation after assessments… I’m not complete on these documents, and I don’t ever refer to them).

  4. “if we simply follow Krashen’s precepts and focus on the words most necessary for communication while ensuring that our students comprehend, then everything else takes care of itself.”
    Bingo. If you communicate with your kids day in and day out, then the kids get the language they need. Only WE can get in the way of that with all our plans, units, and scopes & sequences.
    I had a reason this year to try out teaching thematically. I did numerous different CI activities (TPR, TPRS, MovieTalk, Natural Approach) with a unit on “the beach” and then went to “pets.” And I got to experience firsthand that what was common to all of this was the high frequency function words and the highest frequency verbs. Any theme-specific vocabulary was not going to get reps over time. We can talk about whatever we want (that includes teaching themes!) and we’ll be exposing kids to much of the same words. Check out a frequency list in your target language and in a beginner class shelter everything to the 10 or so highest frequency verbs + fun TPR-able action verbs.
    We don’t have to worry about keeping all the students on the same sequence if we MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE!!! And that’s what teaching with CI is all about – a part of the “art” of the approach is adjusting instruction to their level – high levels of interaction being our #1 strategy for achieving this. And thanks to the “net” we can give students at different places in their acquisition what they need.
    I’ve been teaching an adult class for 2 years with a WIDE range of language proficiencies and it has been a great opportunity for me to improve my “communicating with the net.”

    1. Research supports this!
      “Furthermore, no two learners can be said to receive the same input in natural settings. And yet, acquisition sequences are quite similar across learners” (Lightbown, 1985).

      1. Great quote (Lightbown), Eric. So pertinent.
        “And I got to experience firsthand that what was common to all of this was the high frequency function words and the highest frequency verbs. Any theme-specific vocabulary was not going to get reps over time.”
        This is the difference between Blaine and the textbooks. Textbooks test for theme-specific vocabulary and ignore HF function words and verbs. (There will be an occasional “Recycle” activity, so labelled in order for us to recognized this rare bird which has escaped its S/S habitat.) Herein lies the the frustration of “common (textbook) exams.
        Thanks for sharing this observation, Eric. The theme-specific vocab which will get reps over time is student-interest based vocab. Today was our Thanksgiving pep rally. Yesterday we were able to use theme-specific sports terms because the annual Thanksgiving Day football game is tomorrow. But the pep rally can be geared to a lot of students interests: cheerleaders, show choir members who sing the national anthem, and the marching band which just took first place at the national competition. The sports theme which we are about to start will continue to get reps as we continue through the coming sports seasons. The recent airport theme may not get the same continued reps throughout the year. Although, we will see. Some of the topic words are HF verbs are hard to avoid with airplane/travel: do (the suitcase), make/form a line, arrive, take/care, leave, return.
        Despite the frustration of the textbook test limitation, it is interesting (although not compelling) to reflect on this textbook process from a TCI experience. Eric stated at TCI Maine that we cannot unlearn or unexperience TCI.
        My colleague, Scott, remarked yesterday, that it is amazing that we have taught so long without ever considering the notion of HF words/verbs. There was no consideration, no distinction, no evaluation of HF/LF vocab. How did we teach that long and not think about such an essential principle? By the way, it may not have come up had I not become a part of this blog and get challenged in that way.

        1. “(There will be an occasional “Recycle” activity, so labelled in order for us to recognized this rare bird which has escaped its S/S habitat.)”
          That’s great. I’ve been visualizing one of the problems with textbooks: textbooks say that they are spiraling content, but it’s not done well, and that’s often because they include so much low-frequency vocabulary that you can’t really use in many contexts.
          The visual picture I have of textbook content is of something like a train. There’s a little bit of connection between “units” but it’s sequential and linear. Topically-related content with only a little bit that carries into the next topically-related unit.
          By contrast, there’s teaching for meaning, and working mostly with high-frequency vocabulary. My picture is of a cloud with a center core of some of the most high-frequency words. Then more layers moving outward, but without hard borders between layers of the growing cloud of language. Like the growth rings of a tree, but with less of a hard line between “units.”
          Does that work for others? I’m working on drawing these two ideas.

          1. Oh, cool, Eric. I hadn’t seen that (at least I don’t remember seeing it). I would advocate for less crisp lines between layers of the yellow area, which is why I like a cloud-like image. But yours allows you to compare to traditional textbooks in the same diagram.

          2. Textbooks are well represented by a freight train.
            But living classes might be represented by a passenger train. The more lively passengers are up and about, passing from one car to the other, like high frequency words. The more sedate passengers stay in the same car, waiting for a high energy word to come by and interact with them.

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